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Member of the Department of History  


Ruben studied history of the sciences and humanities at Utrecht University and wrote a MA thesis on the reception and dissemination of Chinese medicine in early modern Europe. He worked at the University Museum and Dutch Railway Museum before starting a PhD within the NWO Vidi project ‘Vital Matters’ at Groningen University. His PhD project ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ investigated how the chemistry of bodily fluids helped establish a new medical system in eighteenth-century Europe.

Since 2018 Ruben works as curator of the medical collections at Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam. Now he has joined the Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University, to conduct his NWO Rubicon postdoc project (2019-2022) on deafness and hearing difference.


The aim of my new research project ‘Deafness in Transition’ is to uncover cultural experiences and medical perceptions of deafness in early modern Europe. I focus on both social and medical perceptions of deafness, which includes both the profoundly deaf and those with hearing difficulty as the result of disease, accident, old age, or changing social and cultural requirements. This provides a new and more inclusive vintage-point to look at deaf history.

In conversation with deaf or hard-of-hearing people and audiologists today, the project seeks to present an eighteenth-century model of deafness as a helpful alternative to reconsider today’s challenge of inclusion. I will set up private-public partnerships to develop a permanent exhibition in the Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam. This critical space will be designed to stimulate reflection and push for discussion among patients, clinicians, and students.

Research interests

  • History of science and medicine
  • Critical medical humanities
  • Bodily fluids
  • Deafness and hearing
  • Medical heritage

Applied Grants

  • 2019: NWO Rubicon grant


Authored book

  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2020). Bodily Fluids, Chemistry and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Boerhaave School. Palgrave Macmillan.

Book review

  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2016). Uroscopy in Early Modern Europe. Sixteenth Century Journal 47(3): 699-700.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2020). Per imperatief plakkaat: Overheid en pestbestrijding in de Republiek der zeven Verenigde Nederlanden. Tijdschrift voor geschiedenis 133(4): 748-750.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2015). Het journaal van Joannes Veltkamp (1759-1764): Een scheepschirurgijn in dienst van de admiraliteit van Amsterdam; Commercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age. Tijdschrift voor geschiedenis 128(4): 665-667.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2014). De machinemens: De machinemetafoor in de geneeskunde en in het denken over ziekte en gezondheid. Studium 7(2): 113-114.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2021). Fluid Bodies and Bodily Fluids in Premodern Europe.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2014). De geest van Boerhaave: Onderzoek in een kil klimaat. Studium 7(2): 112-113.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2016). Cradle of Chemistry: The Early Years of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. Isis 107(3): 634-635.

Chapter in book

  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2017). De traan. In 'Dingen die ergens toe dienen': Verhalen over materiële cultuur van wetenschap. van Gelder, Esther, Jorink, Eric, Nieuwland, Ilja, Rijks, Marlise & Spruit, Alice Verloren. 16-19.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2012). 荷兰的针灸历史 (History of acupuncture in the Netherlands). In 中国针灸交流通鉴. Bai, Xinghua Xi'an Jiaotong University Press. 158-171.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2017). Retention and Excretion. In Gelukkig Gezond! Histories of Healthy Ageing. Knoeff, Rina Barkhuis. 98-111.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2020). Een maquette op grote schaal: De campus van de Medische Faculteit Rotterdam. In De universitaire campus. Flipse, Ab & Streefland, Abel Verloren. 15: 83-98.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2020). Blood: From Humor to Hematology. In Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences. Jalobeanu, Dana & Wolfe, Charles T. Cham: Springer. 13.

Journal Article

  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2017). The Nature of Blood: Debating Haematology and Blood Chemistry in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch Republic. Early Science and Medicine 22(4): 271-300.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. & de Raat, Reina (2010). Verzameldrift: De anatomische collectie van professor Jan Bleuland. Geschiedenis der geneeskunde 14(3): 138-145.
  • Verwaal, Ruben E. (2021). Een nieuwe blik op doofheid: Het project Deafness in Transition. VHZ-online (29 January).